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Korean church rezoning inspires competing petitions

Thursday, September 3, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Last week, the Planning Commission gave its blessing to a new set of plans for redeveloping the former site of the Korean United Presbyterian Church in Crestview. The case will now head to City Council with neighborhood supporters, a list of conditions and a valid petition against it.

Developer David Kahn is seeking a zoning change for his 1-acre tract at 2000 Justin Lane, from Single Family-3 (SF-3) zoning to Multifamily-3 (MF-3) zoning. The land is currently a parking lot, but with the new zoning, Kahn hopes to build a three-story apartment building.

Commissioners voted 9-2 to recommend the zoning change, with Commissioners Patricia Seeger and Nuria Zaragoza voting in opposition. Along with that recommendation, commissioners attached conditions requiring that Kahn build no more than 24 units and that 50 percent of those be two-bedroom units. They also stipulated that the plans front Hardy Drive, with a 25-foot setback along that frontage, which will push the building 75 feet from the property line, and recommended an additional setback that limits the first 50 feet from the property line to two stories. Additionally, they asked that all access be off of Hardy Drive, and all parking be on-site.

The neighborhood has a valid petition against any zoning more intense than MF-1 zoning. A separate petition, signed by residents in favor of MF-3 zoning, has more than 50 signatures. Because it is not a petition of opposition, it is not subject to the validation process. A valid petition is a petition signed by more than 20 percent of the people within 200 feet of the property being rezoned (the neighborhood’s opposition petition stands at 24 percent), with all signatures verified. When there is a valid petition in place, rezoning requires a supermajority of Council approval – nine votes – instead of a simple majority.

Testimony at the Planning Commission found problems with both documents.

Ron Thrower, who is representing Kahn, explained that a single property owner on the valid petition owned more than 20 percent of the land in the qualified area. Ironically, although the property owner opposes the rezoning, his land is zoned MF-3, which is what the developer is requesting. Thrower pointed out that the Korean church property is bordered by MF-3 on three sides and Limited Office zoning on the remaining side.

Commissioner Trinity White said that she wished the petition in favor had been subject to the same process the city uses to validate petitions of opposition, which verifies where signees live in relation to a project.

“As it stands, it really could be anybody supporting that, and that’s concerning to me,” said White.

Both sides showed up to speak at the Planning Commission.

Neighbor Tedd Holladay spoke in favor of the rezoning, saying the mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments could attract families.

Thrower said that under the MF-1 zoning supported by the neighborhood, 16 efficiency apartments would be built instead.

That argument resonated with Commissioner Tom Nuckols, who said two-bedroom apartments could accommodate families and help bring children back to Central Austin’s public schools. He said he would be “looking for every opportunity to make sure we increase the housing stock available to families” to accomplish that goal.

Crestview resident Nancy Harris said the prospect of affordable, family-friendly housing “seemed to be just a smokescreen” and that the planned size and price point for the apartments were neither.

“If affordability and family were truly of interest in this development, then it would make sense that the units would be larger and more reasonably priced. But as a neighborhood, we do not have any say over the size and the price of the units that he ultimately chooses to build,” Harris said.

Larry Ouellette, who is on the neighborhood’s planning contact team, pointed out that Kahn is also developing the lot next door and plans to build 12 units on that site. He explained that the major sticking point for this rezoning remained the height – with Kahn wanting three stories instead of two. Ouellette said that, despite the zoning, the density allowed under MF-1 zoning was actually a better fit for the neighborhood.

Ouellette also cautioned against plans to put a sidewalk along the street, through a $15,000 contribution to the city’s Neighborhood Partnering Program. He said the project could “tear up a lot, a lot, of really nice landscaping” in front of homes there.

“I don’t think people in our neighborhood pay too much attention to discussion about sidewalks, because you guys just don’t build sidewalks in our neighborhood, so people don’t worry. … I think if you actually move forward with putting a sidewalk on that street, you’re going to hear from people,” said Ouellette. “I would have assumed that everyone wants a sidewalk. They don’t, and I don’t think we can assume that everybody does.”

Public Works Director Howard Lazarus explained that the Neighborhood Partnering Program that would build the sidewalks requires 60 percent approval by impacted residents. But, he added, a project along Justin Lane is planned for next year, and that would include adding sidewalks.

“There is some benefit to adding sidewalks that connect to that network as well, but just from a neighborhood information standpoint, there is going to be some disruption to the harmony of the neighborhood in the coming year,” said Lazarus. “That will include placement of sidewalks along Justin Lane.”

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